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Cam Newton, Brandon Marshall lay out the problem with Chicago Bears’ handling of Justin Fields

Two former NFL stars take issue with the Chicago Bears ostensibly not working to Justin Fields’ strengths. Monday night’s win over the Minnesota Vikings only reinforced that critique.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The conversation around Justin Fields’ future got no clearer despite Monday night’s win over the Minnesota Vikings in primetime.

Though Fields finally put together a long-awaited game-winning drive – something he hasn’t done since Week 3 of the 2022 season – with a strong throw to D.J. Moore to set up Cairo Santos’ clinching field goal, the third-year quarterback’s two grisly fourth-quarter fumbles cast a heavy pall over an otherwise solid performance.

(Still, credit to Fields for making up for his mistakes with the kind of clutch play that’s been missing from his arsenal of late.)

Of course, said performance might’ve felt more impressive if offensive coordinator Luke Getsy didn’t call plays like someone who didn’t trust his quarterback, calling a game that led Fields to his lowest air yards per attempt of his NFL career. Though calling a certain number of screens made sense against Minnesota’s repeated all-out blitz looks (as I wrote before the game), I didn’t mean screens on half of Fields’ pass attempts.

If you think the Chicago Bears simply didn’t care about building an offense around Fields, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in some star-studded company.

In an interview with Laurence Holmes on NBC Sports Chicago, former MVP quarterback Cam Newton and former Bears receiver Brandon Marshall suggested Chicago isn’t building a system that helps Fields be the best version of himself.

“This kid has it,” Marshall said of Fields on Football Night in Chicago. “He can do everything. Magical. Hopefully they figure it out because he is special. I love Justin Fields.”

“When are we going to start holding coaches accountable for them potentially being the issue?” Newton added. “It’s so hard for players to hold franchise people accountable for certain things. It’s okay for a player to say, ‘Coach, this is a little too complex for me.’ When you go public and you speak your mind, that’s when you’re labeled something that you’re not…he is good enough to be a dynamic player in this league.”

Newton is, of course, referring to Fields’ earlier comments before the Kansas City Chiefs game in Week 3 about “coaching” disrupting his rhythm as a player and causing him to play “robotic,” in his words. Fields subsequently walked those comments back at his locker later that day.

Since that Week 3 game, Fields has played markedly better, completing 68.6 percent of his passes for 1,061 yards, nine touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 108.5. However, he’s also fumbled the ball three times in the last two weeks – all of which were or could have been back-breaking.

Fields has been at his best when on the move as a thrower or when able to deliver strikes down the field as he did against the Detroit Lions in Week 11 and against the Washington Commanders in Week 5. He owns the seventh-highest deep passing (20+ yards) grade in the NFL as well as the third-highest passer rating on such throws, according to Pro Football Focus (minimum 10 attempts). Interestingly, he also has the third-best grade and sixth-best passer rating on short throws (between 0-10 yards; minimum 43 attempts).

He is not, however, particularly successful throwing the ball behind the line of scrimmage. On those throws, his PFF grade is seventh-worst and his passer rating is 10th lowest in the NFL (minimum 17 attempts).

Guess what kind of throw he makes at the ninth-highest rate in the league? The ones he’s worse at.

Also, if there’s anyone who knows about being miscast in an offensive system, it’s Newton, who struggled as a passer with Josh McDaniels and the New England Patriots in 2020 in a passing offense built for a player like Tom Brady (and later, Mac Jones) more so than him.

Later in that interview, Marshall went on to talk about Jay Cutler’s rift with former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who served under Lovie Smith in 2012, and Cutler’s subsequently more efficient performance under Marc Trestman (whatever else happened with that team) as an example of what it looks like when coaches build around players.

The results when the Bears offense leans into Fields’ skill set certainly seem starkly different from when they don’t. He was quite literally one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL for the first three weeks of the season. From Week 4 on, he’s been the sixth-most efficient quarterback in football in terms of EPA/play combined with completion percentage above expectation (CPOE).

The growth has been there since Week 4 against the Denver Broncos. The question is whether it’s been enough for him to definitively keep his job. As of now, with the Bears owning the No. 1 overall pick via the Carolina Panthers, the answer is most likely no. (And yes, I’ve seen the Fields-Ryan Poles postgame hug.)

There are still five games left for Fields to make his case. It would be great if the Bears could let Fields be Fields for as long as he’s here. Who knows? They might accidentally look good on offense.